I am always finding new truths about life, faith and creative pursuits in the music of Brandi Carlile, a Seattle-based folk rock singer-songwriter. (Photo: NPR.org

Have you ever revisited a song and found a new truth in it? I do it all the time. Here’s an example. 

I hopped in the car to visit a friend recently. Brandi Carlile’s “Bear Creek” album was in the CD player. The day before, I was listening to it for the first time in a few months. I said to my husband that Track 8, “I’ll Still Be There,” is a beautiful picture of friendship.

Then, while listening to it on the road to my friend Pam’s — holy waterworks — I realized something.

“I’ll Still Be There” is not just a sweet picture of human love. It also describes my relationship with the Holy Spirit. Especially lately, as I’ve emerged from a difficult season. Grief. Shame. Depression. Anxiety. I have a new appreciation for the Spirit’s role as The Comforter and Power-Giver.

To understand what I mean, listen to “I’ll Still Be There”:



I imagine this as a conversation between me and the Holy Spirit. I am talking to him and he is responding.

I tell him, “There never was a better love / to see the light of day” than his. He replies, “If the world should let you down / if the sky should fall and never make a sound,” he’ll be there.

We are both brokenhearted. The world let us down. I am brokenhearted by my suffering, yours and ours.

He is brokenhearted because he never wanted us to suffer. It was a known but not wished-for consequence of giving humanity free will. He wouldn’t take free will back, but our pain breaks his heart.

Otherwise, why would he say this through the Apostle Paul?

“In the same way, the Spirit himself helps us in our weaknesses. … (He) intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26)

Wordless groans. That sounds intense. Does the Spirit of God care for me so much he would put himself through the pain of wordless groans on my behalf?

I am forced to conclude he does. All the evidence in my life points to it. And Scripture backs me up.

I am like King David in the Old Testament. I say to God,

“Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.” (Psalm 6:2)

And God hears me: 

“Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” (Psalm 6:8-9)

What Brandi Carlile said about human love, I reclaim as truth about the Spirit, my friend and healer. There never was a better love.

I pray I can remember this truth next time I need healing.

Read more of my posts about music here and faith here.
A Steampunk office by Salem Photographers' Tess Fine is shown. On May 4, I will mail a free book, "The Intellectual Devotional," to the lucky reader who sends me the most outrageous home office picture. This image is an example of what might catch my eye. Get crazy, friends! Contest rules are below. (Photo from Houzz.com)

The hook: Here's your opportunity to win a free book with very little effort: I am giving away my copy of "The Intellectual Devotional: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class," by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim.

**Update: I also will throw in a copy of my 2009 essay, "Learning to Love the Abused," which was published in this collection of essays.

Background: I recently plunged into a nearly full-time writing career without a home office. Now that I've had some publishing success — and lower back pain from sitting on the couch all the time — I'm redecorating our study so it can become my office. In the process of reorganizing, I've come across several like-new books I no longer need. They are quite fascinating. And you guys are great readers. So this is Step 1 of distributing my excess as a reward to your high-caliber selves.

More to come: I will give away other books, too, so join my mailing list (at the bottom of this page) to find out when.

Giveaway Contest Rules

1. Find an image on the Internet of a ¡RIDICULO! home office setup, either because it would be crazy expensive to design, or because it’s wildly original or just plain kooky. Photo-finding tools: Try Houzz.com, Pinterest, Flickr or Google images.

2. “Like” my Facebook author page, if you haven't already.

3. "Share" the post about the book giveaway on your Facebook Timeline.

4. Send me your sparklingly brilliant, outrageous home office photo via the private message function on my FB page.

One rule clarification: Send your entry photo to my Facebook author page using the private message function, not to my personal FB account. The reason? So I don't accidentally look at the photo you are submitting. I am judging in blind fashion with an assistant who will screen the photos and strip off the identifying info so I remain unbiased in my selection.

At 12 p.m. EST on Monday, May 4, 2015, the contest will close. At that time, I will judge entries based on originality, kookiness and saccharine gut-level impact.

I will notify the winner on May 4 regarding claiming the prize. And I will post the winning entry here on my blog after all is settled.

"The Intellectual Devotional"

Sally forth and select your images! I can’t wait to see what you find.
My half-Siamese cat, (Nancy) Sinatra, is pictured. 

A Prayer for My Anxious Cat

By Rachel E. Watson

Don’t be afraid, my darling feline
with velvet-tipped toes
and downy-thick fur.

It’s only the coming of the dawn,
and it happens every day
to the anxious and content.

So take your racing heart
and still it in the warmth
and safety of my arms.

I will hold you tightly
until the grip of fear releases;
you’ll find me a kindly protector.

And then when the sun has risen
I will draw the bay window shades
and you may sleep at ease in the sun.

O Ruler among cat pyramids,
O, saucy Sultan of Siam (Thailand),
Let peace take o’er your heart,
Let joy inhabit your steps,
Let safety claim your trust,
Let love be the balm you seek.

Copyright © Rachel E. Watson 2015.

About the poem and my cat

I wrote this poem on Monday, after a period of holding Sinatra and soothing her because something about the coming of morning seems to make her anxious. She yowls. Continuously. And paces. And gets a worried look on her face. It's not food-related, because before Stage Yowl, I already fed her. And it's not that she wants us to wake up and play with her, because, many times, if I get up, she'll completely ignore me and keep yowling.

But I don't care. Sinatra is so special to me. She is an instrument of God's love and mercy in my life.

I try not to fret too much that litter-box training has never been fully successful, that she wakes me up so early every day, and that she hisses at strangers and doesn't like physical affection, even from me, her favorite person, most of the time.

Why don't these things ultimately cause me and my husband to find her a new home? Because all of these things don't outweigh what she means to me. In fact, they make it so much more touching when she seeks me out of her own free will — crawls into bed with me and makes a little nest right next to my legs, purring like an engine — or, like this morning, shares the hours of pre-dawn insomnia with me, making the time more bearable simply by her quiet, curious, seeking nearness.

She is one of life's biggest blessings as I try to do the work of being a balanced person.

Thank you, Jesus, Spirit, Father, for your good gifts, your beautiful creation, your love for little ones like Sinatra.

May I never forget how important we both are to you. 

Read more of my poems and poetry-related blog thought spinnings here.
I've got a writing hangover today. What is a writing hangover, you ask?

It's that thing when you worked too long the previous day (or couple days, in my case), and you are too exhausty to function. Headachey, eye-puffy, body-drained Rachel sits at her laptop and tries to write. But nope.



I was going to write a post about how to cure a writing hangover, if I could muster the ability to write it, but when I started googling definitions, I discovered a blogger in the UK had already written an excellent, funny post on the topic.

Here it is: "Writing Hangover Symptom Checker," by Blondewritemore.

Enjoy!
The Cathedral of St. Andrew in Grand Rapids.

The Evangelical Choral Society is a severely underrated musical gemster in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and you, the public, can turn that around. You'll love this choir. It's filled with heart and technical skill. As they belt out the classics, the group will twist up your music-loving guts and knock your (probably) Argyle socks off.

On Saturday, my dear husband, precious sister and I were blessed to attend the group's semi-annual public performance. This spring's concert was held at the Cathedral of St. Andrew — the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese headquarters.

Besides being an obscenely lovely building that's about to celebrate its 140th birthday, the cathedral, as noted by music director and diocese organist Nick Palmer, who welcomed the audience on Saturday, is perfectly acoustically designed to radically majestify the beauty of choral music. That's a paraphrase.

The church often hosts community concerts, not just sacred music but also opera and whatknot, which I think is a wonderful outreach. Brava, St. Andrew's! You brothers and sisters got it. And when you got it, flaunt it.

Randall Wm. Burghart addresses the audience between songs.

Saturday's concert, led by the group's esteemed conductor and music director, Randall Wm. "Randy" Burghart, featured three works in German, one in Latin and three in English, and two outstanding sopranos: Kristen Burghart (Randy's awesome classically trained singer-chef-cool person-wife, whose voice you local folks might recognize from Opera GR performances), and Mary Lehr Dean, whom I hadn't seen perform with the group before, but found to be an impressive talent whose high notes could probably break glass. But not the glass at St. Andrew's, because it was recently reinforced.

Here is Dean singing lead soprano on the song, "God So Loved the World," by Bob Chilcott:



Wow. Chills. (Bee tee dubs, I don't admit this very often, but I cried during Dean's performance. Coddle me, mommet. Oy vey.)

The program was about evenly split between classic and modern works: Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn and Georg Schumann, balanced with Chilcott, David Cherwien and a spiritual by the late Moses Hogan.

For me, the wild card was the Latin, Holy-Thursday masterwork by Marc Antonio Ingegnieri, "Ecce Vidimus Eum," a sixteenth-century liturgical piece I hadn't heard before. I loved it. Here it is:



I'm glad Burghart invited his longtime musical collaborator Bethany Schutter, an alto singer and Hudsonville High School voice instructor, to conduct one of the songs, the spiritual by Moses Hogan, "Deep River."

This is a favorite piece for me and my fellow pianist sister, Marissa, ever since we learned to play an arrangement of it years and years ago on keys. We were delighted to hear it performed a capella. The keyboard is no match for the agonizing so-good-it-hurts bazinga of a spiritual.



The closing performance was an 11-minute, beautiful, nuanced and expertly honed rendition of Felix Mendelssohn's "Hear My Prayer," the evening's only piece with organ accompaniment, as performed by St. Andrew's Nick Palmer. His pipe organ rocks the friggin' casbah.

"Hear My Prayer" was soprano Kristen Burghart's chance to shine, and she stepped up and delivered the goods, as she invariably does.

My sister and I were particularly tickled by her expressive countenance during her solo sections. Besides her overall pleasant demeanor, it seemed from where we were sitting that she mostly kept her eyes fixed on her husband's face, not his conducting gestures or her songbook or the crowd. The eye contact, or what appeared to us was eye contact, is a sweet habit of theirs I've noticed at other ECS concerts. I imagine it communicates their years of musical togetherness and mutual affection. (Or is that my mushy heart showing?)

Watch to see if you can catch her not-so-covert glances in this stunning video of the finale, "Hear My Prayer."

Regarding the caliber of the show as a whole, I foresee the cathedral taking up a collection for roof repairs, because the music raised the rafters off their hinges and slammed them back down again. Mylanta!



Like what you heard?

The Evangelical Choral Society, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, performs free concerts twice yearly: once in the spring and again in the fall. The fall 2015 concert will be held the Sunday before Thanksgiving at First (Park) Congregational Church, 10 E. Park Place NE in downtown Grand Rapids.

As an added bonus, at that concert, ECS will be performing with a full orchestra. (Squee!) To learn more, visit www.ecs-gr.org, or "Like" their Facebook page.

Note: I am, as you might have noticed from my inexcusably familiar remarks, acquainted with the Burgharts, owing to our mutual Cornerstone University ties. I was not, however, in any way paid or goaded into writing this review. So when you donate your moolah on the ECS website, and please do, you need not fret that the money will be mismanaged on dubious propaganda campaigns that involve hiring this cornball reviewer. I can't however, promise not to review their music again. Because they are my kryptonite. Peace out, homies.
Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe.

For women of my generation, before we were old enough to even know ourselves, there was the love story of Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe.

The death announcement of actor Jonathan Crombie, 48, who starred as Gil in the CBC miniseries "Anne of Green Gables" (1985) and its sequels ('87, '00), sent many of us reaching inward and outward for comfort yesterday, feeling at once sheepish and proud for grieving so deeply for someone most of us never met.

Jonathan Crombie (Oct. 12, 1966-April 15, 2015)

But to us, Crombie wasn't just some celebrity. He was the personification of L.M. Montgomery's fictional hero, and he felt very real and very heroic indeed. He was the one who showed us the richness and power of romantic love built on the foundation of friendship.

Anne and Gilbert ride bikes and argue.
That knowledge is especially resonant because Anne and Gilbert's friendship couldn't take root until Anne let go of her tightly held pride and stubbornness over a minor infraction years in the past. And Gil waited for that to happen. I know I certainly can relate to this shortcoming of Anne's, this tendency to cling to "I was right and you were wrong," despite its petty destructiveness.

Anne fumes as Gilbert tugs her braid after calling her "Carrots."
I have been thinking a lot about Anne and Gil since I heard the news yesterday. The moment I read the announcement will be frozen in time for me, one of those "Where were you when..." stories. I was leaving the library, and I had paused on the sidewalk to check my Facebook Newsfeed. I sank down onto a bench in the 73-degree April sunshine and felt my eyes fill with tears, right out in the open.

I've been trying to figure out since then what exactly their story means to me, what I've learned from repeated readings of the series and re-viewings of the movies — not just from Gilbert, but from both of them, together as a team. What is their combined appeal? It may take some time to understand all of it, but here's a start:

1. Gilbert, the faithful, grounded friend, lends balance to Anne, the head-in-the-clouds dreamer. Ever the teasing, mischievous voice of pragmatism, Gil has innately what Anne doesn't: A vision of reality, possessing a solidness that Anne certainly matches in her character, but that takes her years of growth and hard work to uncover and embrace. Gilbert is there for that process, watching her mature, not giving up on her. Despite his frustration with the slow process, deep down, I think he recognizes she must be who she is and learn her own lessons; he can't do any of the work for her.

2. Anne breathes life into Gilbert. Imagine, if you will, what Gilbert's life would have been like had not the creative redheaded orphan arrived in Avonlea. There was no one on the scene, not then, not later, with the vivacity, intellect, imagination, wit, courage, fierceness and loyalty of Anne. Capable of great injustice, Anne also is capable of abiding love. As my fellow writer Lorilee put it in her "Eulogy for Gilbert Blythe," Anne was "most decidedly other," and Gilbert knew it to his core.

3. Together, Anne and Gil help each other meet their goals. Gil gives up the Avonlea school and takes the one in White Sands so Anne can be near Marilla after Matthew's death. After they graduate from Redmond and Anne (finally!) accepts Gil, she waits for him for three years to finish medical school. Together, they build their House of Dreams, and they fill it with little dreamers.

4. Forgiveness is a powerful, powerful gift. They both need it from each other: Gil needs it from Anne after years of being shut out, and Anne needs it for trouncing on his heart over and over again. I don't think this story's core and beautiful truth came about by accident. I think L.M. Montgomery knew what the human heart craves because it's what she herself craved. What I crave. What you crave. Montgomery's love life didn't work out happily, but she sent Anne and Gil's story out as a prayer into the universe anyway, to bless all the lucky and unlucky lovers to come after.

I'm so thankful she did. So, so thankful.

Read more posts in my Storytelling Sunday series here


The last two nights I've gone to bed much later than planned. I've been spellbound by a book that's having its way with my feelings. I can't put it down.

The novel, "The Paying Guests," is by British author Sarah Waters and is set in London, in 1922. Formerly upper-crust widow Mrs. Wray and her single, 26-year-old daughter, Frances — who has a past we learn more about as the story unfolds — lose their family in World War I and are forced to take in lodgers to supplement their dwindling income.

The tenants, Leonard and Lilian Barber, bring their loud, lively, emerging middle class ways into the house, and they provide a catalyst for awakening within Frances.

I don't know all of what happens yet — although plenty has happened so far — but I marvel at Waters' ability to tap into the yearnings of the human heart and get me, the reader, to feel what they're feeling. And this despite the fact that I have hardly anything in common with her characters. Shoot, her characters hardly have anything in common with each other, and yet unlikely friendships are born. Love blossoms.

... And later, there's a crime and a subsequent cover-up. Bet you didn't see THAT coming!

But the rich, emotional detail is what I aim for, as a writer — whether in my poetry or short fiction, or someday, perhaps, in a novel — to be able to take readers on an emotional journey. To help them to feel the feelings that make us human.

Loneliness. Pain. Anger. Romantic love. Sadness. Joy. Fear.

Reading about these emotions in fiction helps us tap into and identify them in our own lives, and to recognize and understand the feelings of others. Reading schools us in empathy. It teaches us how to be better humans.

What a worthwhile endeavor.

What does reading do for you?

Can you recall the last book that tugged at your heartstrings? How did it make you feel?
If you read this blog long enough, you'll find out I love folk music, singer-songwriters, and bands that cross traditional genre boundaries.

What especially grabs my attention is bands whose song lyrics tell a captivating story or spark my imagination in some way.

Here's this week's example: a song from a Chicago-based indie folk rock band The Diving Bell. (Full disclosure: The band's founder is my husband's cousin, Steve Hendershot.)

Hendershot and his band collaborated on the video below with the writer whose book inspired the song and the band's name: James P. Delgado, author of "Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine: Iron, Guns and Pearls."

The song is called "Pacific Pearl Co. 1869," and it's about the first successful deep-diving submersible, built in 1864 by Julius H. Kroehl. He intended it to be used in the Civil War, but it was completed too late, and so was repurposed as a pearl diving ship for use off the Pacific coast of Panama.

I hope you enjoy the song — the harmonies, the writing, the strings, and the lead vocals — as much as I did. I hope you enjoy the story, too.



Here's a live performance of the same song that was recorded for submission to NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts contest:



The lyrics are below.

"Pacific Pearl Co. 1869," by The Diving Bell

We sailed the first great submarine
Sank down in that dark machine, oh yeah
We dove where no one had before
Breathing on the ocean floor, oh yeah
Saw the bottom of the world
It was empty, it was cold
We set the craft ashore
Stood there like the fools we were, oh yeah
Just like the fools we were, like the fools we were

The violent will of technology
Transcends every boundary, oh yeah
The bright blue sea turns violet and then black
Seven fathoms deep
Yet we dove to harvest pearls
And found a barren reef
So you can build the first great submarine
And still a failure be
And still a failure be, still a failure be

Julius, the engineer
Poured the rum and built the fire, oh yeah
The ocean is vain and she is cruel
And loath to suffer fools
We passed the bottle and we sang
For history and for shame
Behold the bitter monument
Mourn the deepest diver, spent
O the bitter monument, the bitter monument

The men all went their separate ways
Mostly back home to the states, so yeah
‘Til just the engineer remained
Where his heart and vessel lay, so yeah
At the low tide, he would meet
Her there along the shore
And the wind would echo forth
The beauty of her form and force
The beauty of her form, beauty of her force

That was 1869
In spring 2001
They found her crusted through with pearls
And heard their quiet song
Heard their song, heard their quiet song

More about The Diving Bell

If you'd like to read the full story behind the song "Pacific Pearl Co. 1869," visit this page. To get updates about The Diving Bell's upcoming Midwest shows, visit their website or "Like" the band's Facebook page.

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.


While live streaming my church’s sermon in our living room this morning — yes, that’s right, we didn’t make it to church, tsk, tsk — I found myself having a hard time concentrating on the pastor’s words of wisdom. Why? I was fixated on the accumulated dust and cat hair underneath the arm chair across the room.

After the sermon was over, I got out the broom and dustpan and went to work.

This incident struck me as funny. Here I was, on my hands and knees, still wearing my bathrobe, scraping out months worth of dirt from underneath the chair. Then, suddenly it seemed very profound.

What if we are blocked from fully hearing and absorbing God’s truth if there’s accumulated “dirt” in our lives? If there’s sin we are intentionally harboring or ignoring, does that make it harder for us to hear and be changed by good teaching?

Or, on the other hand, what if hearing good teaching is what illuminates the dust under the sofa?

I think it can go both ways.

Recently, I went through a period of intense self-focus. My eyes were trained on needs that weren't being met how I thought they should be, and I was ignoring little blessings that otherwise would have jumped out at me. Like how God was providing for me. How I had so much to be grateful for. I was also ignoring truths I was hearing that could have helped me course-correct.

Through the teaching of the Word and through the counsel of wise people God sent my way, I started seeing that dirt under my sofa. He shone a brilliant light on it, and he gave me a broom to sweep it away.

I pray for the light to always shine on the dirt in my life. I pray I will stay willing to be made new. I pray to be restored like a freshly polished floor.


Today, we need to have a serious conversation about success.

As many of you will have heard by now, earlier this week, three of my poems were accepted for publication in the May 2015 issue of Indiana Voice Journal.

While I’ve had nonfiction essays and articles published before, this is my debut as a poet.

In the past couple of days since I heard the news, I’ve become aware of some persistent questions banging around inside my head: “What’s next?” and “How can I top this?”

I thought they were just fleeting thoughts, but if anything, the urge to rush onward to the next milestone has only gotten stronger.

I think there’s a degree of this urgency in every productive writer’s life, and it’s healthy to a certain extent. It’s the drive to keep writing, to continue answering the call that’s been placed on our hearts.

But the feeling I’m describing now does not feel like a healthy one. It feels like an inability to stop in the moment and enjoy and celebrate my success. It feels like discontentment. Worry, even.

So, where do I turn to explore this phenomenon? Where do I find rest from the voice inside that whispers that this achievement is not good enough?

Looking for scriptural encouragement and instruction, I seek and find:

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Timothy 6:6)
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” (Psalm 68:19)
“Cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22a)
“The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26)
“But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.” (Psalm 68:3)
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, emphasis mine)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Besides reading these verses, and offering up prayers, I am also trying to remember that I am not the only writer who has felt this restless discontentment, this feeling that a modicum of success is not enough, this realization that achievement does not equal happiness.

I've a hunch it’s partly why so many writers and artists battle depression and addiction. We forget, continually, that our creations can’t fulfill our every need.

To state this struggle of disillusionment is not a solution to the problem. It’s a reminder to stay alert for this temptation when and if success comes knocking again.

I will need to reread this post someday, when I have again forgotten that publication doesn’t bring complete satisfaction. I pray I'll have a copy of the scriptures nearby at that time, to connect me with the only One who can.
Rhiannon Giddens

I was browsing through my viewing history on Amazon yesterday and discovered a new artist under the suggested purchases section.

Her name is Rhiannon Giddens, and she is an African-American, cross-genre, multi-instrumentalist musician and singer who just produced a debut solo album in February called "Tomorrow Is My Turn," after the Nina Simone song of the same title.

Her voice is ... wow. I don't think I know of anyone else recording music today with a sound quite like hers. She's got a throwback style that somehow feels fresh and new.

I'm glad T Bone Burnett agreed and helped produce her album, which is full of deftly arranged cover songs. Take a listen below to the final track on her record, which is her original song, "Angel City."

It's a gentle, memoir-like ballad that pulls on my heartstrings.



"Angel City," by Rhiannon Giddens


When I came to Angel City, I was on the run
Blinded by my own pity, I was nearly done
Stock heartbroken, bitter and poor, burdened down by sin
I fought hard to find the door, didn't know how to get in

[Chorus]
Time and time at hand, you helped me over the sand
Gently rising to be, you walked a mile with me
And I saw the sea

I am found where I was lost, I am closer to free
Heart unbound, whatever the cost, all rivers fall to the sea

[Chorus] x2


If slow and gentle ballads aren't your thing, the good news is, this album has a lot of variety of tempos and styles. I'd almost say "something for everyone," but I'll concede not everyone is going to love her voice like I do.

Buy her music


If you do love Rhiannon Giddens' voice and want to learn more about her music, visit her website. Buy her debut album on Amazon or at iTunes.

Read more posts in the Groovy Tuesday series here.
Today's Easter message at my church, Ada Bible, was one of the best I've heard our lead teaching pastor, Jeff Manion, preach since I started attending there five years ago.

You can watch it here. Or, if you'd like the short version, read on.

"The Road to Emmaus," by Robert Zund (1877)

The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus 


Instead of a sermon on the discovery of the empty tomb, or a look at the resurrection through the eyes of one of the Twelve, Pastor Jeff's message zoomed out a bit and took a look at a conversation between two of the disciples in Jesus' outer circle, as they walked from Jerusalem to a small village called Emmaus on the Sunday of the resurrection. On that seven-mile hike, the pair were discussing Jesus' execution and their disappointment with the way things had apparently turned out.

[By saying these disciples were in the "outer circle," I mean they were more like groupies than bandmates. In other words, they weren't part of the chosen Twelve.]

These two groupies, Cleopas and another unnamed person, had believed Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. But when Christ was crucified that Friday, it seemed to them that all of that had fallen apart. They were rudderless. Losing their faith.

But then, Jesus joined them on the road, alive, in the flesh. They were prevented from recognizing him, so he took the opportunity for a teachable moment. Luke chapter 24:17-27 has the story:

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. ...
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

After this, they invited him to dinner in the village. As he gave thanks for the meal, the two disciples finally recognized him. Just like that, he vanished. They were so excited, they trekked all the way back to Jerusalem in the dark to tell the other disciples he had risen from the dead.

What's amazing to me about this story is that Jesus cared so much about these two that he took the time to personally explain everything they were so slow to see — all that the Scriptures had foretold but that they had either misinterpreted or forgotten. And, in so doing, he helped them regain their moorings.

Lost and Found 


Pastor Jeff told a few more stories about losing and regaining faith. 

The one that resonated with me most was of British writer and thinker A.N. Wilson, who, while researching a biography of C.S. Lewis, found himself losing his faith in God. 

A.N. Wilson

For 20 years, Wilson identified as an atheist and hobnobbed with famed secular humanists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. 

Then, Wilson began to doubt his unbelief. It wasn't as if Jesus appeared to him to set the record straight, as He did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It was a collection of small realities, such as the existence of language and music, that drew him back. Here's an excerpt from an article he wrote for the New Statesman in April 2009, called "Why I Believe Again":

The existence of language is one of the many phenomena — of which love and music are the two strongest — which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat. They convince me that we are spiritual beings, and that the religion of the incarnation, asserting that God made humanity in His image, and continually restores humanity in His image, is simply true. As a working blueprint for life, as a template against which to measure experience, it fits.

I can't think of a better truth to reflect upon this Easter evening.

That, and the unparalleled beauty of Bach, some of the most stunning and spiritual music you'll ever hear:

(Photo: Free images)
This Holy Week, I have been blessed by passages my husband has read aloud from his copy of "The Book of Common Prayer" at night before we go to sleep.

After hearing the Wednesday-before-Easter reading, I was struck by one particular phrase: "strange blood."

To put it in its biblical context, this refers to the animal sacrifice the ancient Jewish priests made in the tabernacle each year to atone for the people's sins. The priests, as commanded by God in the Book of Leviticus, would take the blood and pour it on the altar as a covering for transgressions.

A strange practice. A strange command.

Christians believe Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of that practice — he is the Lamb of God in human form — and because of the blood he shed, we no longer need to offer sacrifices as atonement.

While pondering this concept, I felt the combined weight of all the things I've been studying and learning start to soak into my skin.

On Maundy Thursday, aka The Last Supper/Passover celebration, Jesus predicted his death, burial and resurrection, and he also predicted Peter would deny him three times. Later that night and into the wee hours of the morning, it happened just as Jesus prophesied.

BUT, after the resurrection, he forgave Peter for his faithlessness and reinstated him into the fold of his disciples. Peter became the rock on which the church is built, one of the most passionate and outspoken apostles of the early church.

Oh, the power of forgiveness.

In the spirit of Christ's atonement and all else I learned this week about forgiveness, I wrote a poem yesterday called "Strange Blood." I won't share the whole thing here, because I intend to submit it for publication.

But I can share the first stanza. In the poem, Jesus is addressing Peter.

This cup full of strange blood,
spilling from my crown, my hands,
my feet and my heart,
is painted across thy lintel,
is poured over thine errors.


If you're going to remember one thing today, this Good Friday, remember this holiday exists to shout from the rooftops that your errors are covered, once and for all, because of Christ's "strange blood" poured over your sins.  

Read more of my poetry-related blog posts here.